When neurosurgeon Juan Alzate, of Glencoe, isn’t pioneering brain surgery techniques in Lake County hospitals, he likes to volunteer as a story reader at South School, where his daughter is a student. His surgeon’s hands, which naturally like to hold books, move quite a bit when he talks about what he does for a living. On staff at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Alzate is in demand, in part, due to a surgery he champions called the Six Pillar Approach. Alzate was the first doctor in Illinois and the fifth in the country to perform the new minimally invasive brain surgery that allows surgeons to remove deep brain tumors frequently deemed untreatable.
Surgeons access the brain through an opening the size of a dime, and use brain mapping, GPS navigation technology and a tool called BrainPath to move through the natural folds and delicate fibers of the brain to reach the tumor. The tool displaces tissue rather than cutting it, which lowers the risk of damage to healthy brain tissue as well as the risk of complications from surgery.
Alzate works at the Zion Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, Advocate Condell Medical Center, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Vista Medical Center, Highland Park Hospital and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. He and his wife Robyn Tavel have two children, Zoey, 5, a South School kindergartner, and Lexi, 3. The family belongs to Glencoe Am Shalom.
Q. You’re from the East Coast but in recent years, you made your life in Glencoe.
A. Yes, basically I work in all of the Lake County hospitals. Coming to here, it was a big change but it’s good. I think Glencoe is awesome.
Q. Are you a pioneer as a neurosurgeon?
A. Pioneer is a big word but yes, we are pioneering new ways to do surgery.
Q. What is the Six Pillar Approach?
A. Basically, the Six Pillar Approach is a new technology that they’re using to get into the brain to do surgeries. The history of neurosurgery shows that beginning in the 1900s, doing surgery was very uneasy because you didn’t have any idea where to go. And you opened the brain, and you see something, you don’t see something, and then you tend to explore all around until you find. The outcome was bad.
Now, many tumors, people used to say, “It’s too deep located, if I am going to take it out, it’s going to produce a lot of damage, better not to do it.” But now, with the technology and some of those cases, we can say, “You know what, it can be done safely.” As long as it can be done safely, and the quality of life to the patient improves, and the survival improves, just do it.
Q. So are you making a difference in our world?
A. I am making a difference patient by patient. To change the life of one patient, it means the whole world for the patient. People do a lot more stuff than I do, to change the world for millions of people, but I just change it one at a time.
Q. What is the future of medicine, for you, or maybe just an overview?
A. Oh wow. Medicine, as we know, really started to change less than 200 years ago. I would say, 150 years ago. And really started to make big progress in the 1950s, ’60s, and 1970s. That’s when medicine changed significantly. I think that we’re getting a lot of new technologies. And as technology progresses, one of the things that we see in sci-fi movies is becoming a reality.
Q. Are you thankful?
A. Oh you know … absolutely. God gives you some gifts and what you do with those gifts is up to you.